With workplace bullying seemingly on the rise, the ACT government has introduced a new bill to lead its workers into the workplace with a lowered risk of personal violence.

The bill, called the Personal Violence Bill 2016, aims to reduce incidences of bullying and violence in the workplace.

What constitutes bullying in the workplace?

Workplace violence can be any act of physical violence, as well as threats, harassment, intimidation or other disruptive behaviour whilst at work. Bullying is a very common form of workplace violence and can appear in many forms:

  • repeated hurtful remarks
  • sexual harassment
  • exclusion
  • intimidation
  • pushing, shoving, tripping, grabbing
  • attacking or threatening physically
  • playing mind games
  • giving impossible tasks
  • deliberately changing work hours to cause difficulties for workers
  • initiations or hazing – being made to do humiliating things in order to be accepted

Employers are constantly encouraged, if not required, to put strategies, policies and procedures in place to reduce the risk of violence and bullying in the workplace.

The new Personal Violence Bill 2016 has established a scheme wherein personal and workplace protection orders (WPOs) can be acquired to provide more protection than the protection currently provided by the criminal law.

What will this bill change?

The new legislation lets the court create WPOs to further prevent violence in the workplace. This can be helpful for those who are affected by any workplace bullying, harassment or violence. If internal investigations and disciplinary policies fail to work in the way they were intended, the new legislation lets the court step in to sort out an effective solution for those involved.

The person who is affected does not need to take any action, if they do not wish to. Instead, employers or an agent of the employer can apply to the Magistrates Court for a WPO in relation the affected person.

The orders can dictate where individuals are allowed to be, whom they can interact with and other similar factors. For example, the order could prevent two people from crossing paths or working together in the workplace. The order will be according to what the court deems necessary to prevent any potential violence in the workplace.  It is no longer necessary to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there is a risk of violence. Instead, orders can be given when it is probable violence has occurred or is likely to occur.

How can you prevent workplace violence in your workplace?

With legislation, policies and procedures in place to combat violence in the workplace, it could be easy to forget that the prevention of workplace violence is down to each and every individual. Here are some initial steps that can be taken by both employers and employees to promote a violence-free workplace:

  • Introduce bullying and anti-harassment policies unique to your workplace.
  • Introduce procedures for dealing with agitated customers and clients which you may come in contact with throughout a working day.
  • Ensure your own words or actions toward others could not be considered to be inflammatory or intimidating in any way to avoid conflict and violence.
  • Remain vigilant when it comes to your fellow workers so that you can report any instances of violence through the appropriate channels at your workplace.

It is not clear whether the rest of Australia will follow in the footsteps of the ACT when it comes to creating legislation regarding personal violence, but if this bill is successful, the rest of the country may just fall in line and take a similar approach eventually.